More than a singing competition
The Eurovision song contest was found in 1956 and it can be argued that it was designed as a platform to promote european unity in a cold war context, with its purpose being the “ fostering good relations between neighbors after the violence of the Second World War.” (McGrane 2014; Jordan 2010) In a little over a weeks time between May 18 and 23, 2015 the 60th Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Vienna. This year the motto is ‘Building Bridges’. Hosting the Song Contest will allow Vienna to present itself as the open, energetic and dynamic city it is. With the Life Ball, Europes largest AIDS charity event, taking place this weekend, the Song contest next weekend and the 20th Rainbow Parade in June, Vienna is fully embracing diversity at the moment. The city has even installed gay-themed traffic lights.
“From the perspective of national governments, the principal objective of cultural diplomacy is positively to influence public and high-level opinion in a foreign state.” (Caspian Information Centre 2012) The Eurovision Song Contest is a suitable setting for states to achieve this objective. This year 40 nations will meet in Vienna to compete for the title, but also to share theire culture and to show the world who they are. The sound contest draws a large audience, it “remains the single largest televised annual cultural event in the world” (Ray 2015)
Azarbaijan, a country which did not have many opportunities to stand out positively in the first years of it independence, won the Song Contest in 2011 and making it the host for 2012. The country acknowledged the potential that being host of such an event could have for nation branding and integrated organizing the Song Contest in its wider Public Diplomacy strategy. (Ismailzade 2011)
While most contestants sing in english, each year some contestant decide to sing in their native language. Last year Sergej Cetkovic was one of them and his choice did not do him any harm, he became the first candidate from montenegro to make it into the final. He explained his choice “I think we need to keep our cultural heritage — that’s why I think it’s important to sing in my mother tongue” and added “We’re a new country. People have to know we exist.” (Donadio 2014) His statement shows the potential that participation at the Song Contest has for nation branding. By standing out of the crowd, small little known countries have the chance to put their name on the map. They do not have to necessarily have to win the contest to achieve this, but a extraordinary performance highlighting their culture can do the trick as well.
The rules of the competition do not allow voters to vote for their own country. From a cultural diplomacy standpoint this is important, because it puts an emphasis on appreciating songs from other cultures. However it also leads to bloc voting where countries with close relations support each other. For example the balkan countries and the scandinavian countries usually make up one bloc each. (Donadio 2014) The degree to which the Eurovision Song Contest is a politicized event became evident last year. Not only was the Russian spokesmen booed at when trying to read out the countries result, also the countries giving high points to Russia were booed at. Russia was focus of international criticism during the event for the crisis in crimea as well as it’s ant-gay law. (Wyatt 2014)
However while it is unclear if politics have the power to decide the winner of the contest it is important to highlight that, despite the European Broadcasting Union claiming it is an apolitical event, the Song Contest has repeatedly been used as a platform to get across political messages by participants. One example for this is that Cyprus gave 8 points to Turkey in 2003 after only giving few if any points to the country since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. ‘Europe, peace to Cyprus, Turkey eight points’ Declared cyprus’ spokesperson, indicating a change in the relationship between turkey and cyprus. (Jordan 2010)
- Donadio, R. 2014 Hamster Wheels, Sequins and, Yes, a Lot of Singing. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/10/arts/television/eurovision-splashes-into-2014-finals-to-rapt-audiences.html?hp&_r=0
- Ray, K. BBC Eurovision Selection – Time for Power to the People. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/kaushik-ray/eurovision-bbc-selection-_b_6825842.html
- McGrane, S. An Austrian Drag Queen Wins Eurovision. Available at http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/an-austrian-drag-queen-wins-eurovision
- Caspian Information Centre 2012 Image-‐making, Cultural Diplomacy and the Eurovision Song Contest. Available at http://www.caspianinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/OP-No.-18-Image-making-Cultural-Diplomacy-and-the-Eurovision-Song-Contest.pdf
- Wyatt, D. Eurovision 2014: Russia act, the identical Tolmachevy twins, jeered by crowd during final Available at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/eurovision-2014-russia-booed-by-crowd-during-final-9350249.html
- Jordan, P. 2010 The truth about politics at the Eurovision Song Contest. Available at http://www.escinsight.com/2010/11/18/the-truth-about-the-politics-of-eurovision/
- Ismailzade, F. 2011 Azerbaijan Boosts Its Public Diplomacy Efforts. Available at http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=38322&no_cache=1#.VVSX1jk9vCY